Should You Encrypt Your Home Folder?

Encrypt My Home Folder
Encrypt My Home Folder.

One of the often overlooked installation options that is made available by many Linux installers is to “encrypt your home folder."

In this article, I am going to discuss the importance of encrypting your home folder for keeping your data and documents safe.

You might think that simply by requiring the user to log in with a password that this is enough to secure your files. You would be wrong.

If you are a Windows user, create a live Linux USB drive and boot into it.

Now open the file manager and navigate to your documents and settings folder on the Windows partition. Unless you have encrypted your Windows partition you will notice that you can see absolutely everything.

If you are a Linux user do the same thing. Create a live Linux USB and boot into it. Now mount and open your Linux home partition. If you haven’t encrypted your home partition you will be able to access everything.

OK, this is all very interesting I hear you say but not technically relevant because the only people who have access to my computer are my wife and children and they are not particularly interested in accessing my data nor are they capable of creating a Linux USB drive.

Before I continue, consider your mobile phone. Lots of people have put a phone lock of some kind onto their mobile phone either in the form of a passcode or pattern. How many of you have put a simlock onto your phone?

If somebody steals your phone and there is a phone lock then you might think you are safe because the only way to get that phone working again is a factory reset. However what happens if the person who stole your phone simply removes the sim card and places it into another handset.

All that person has to do is call premium rate phone lines from which they receive commission and you are left with a massive phone bill.

The same can be said of your computer. If somebody physically breaks into your house and steals your laptop can you afford for them to have full access to the files on the hard drive?

What Kind of Data Do You Store on Your Computer?

At the very least most people keep bank statements, insurance certificates or letters with account numbers on them. Some people keep a file that contains all of their passwords.

Are you the kind of person who logs into their email and gets the browser to save the password. Those settings are stored in your home folder as well and could allow somebody to use the same method to automatically log in from your computer to your email or even worse your PayPal account?

I’m not trying to scare you. I am trying to press home the importance of looking after your data.  I think more prominence should be given to the encrypt your home folder option within the Linux graphical installers.

So, You Have Installed Linux and You Haven’t Chosen the Option to Encrypt Your Home Partition. What Should You Do?

You have three options:

  • Do nothing because you have nothing worth stealing anyway
  • Reinstall your operating system and choose the encrypt your home folder option
  • Encrypt your home partition now manually

    Obviously, the best option if you already have Linux installed is to encrypt it manually and here are the instructions for doing just that.

    Click here for a great guide showing how to encrypt your home folder and here is another one.

    There is one more point to note before I finish this article. Make sure that you can remember your username and password because if you lose the password your data will be lost.

    There are other downsides to encrypting data. If your hard drive fails without encryption it is much easier to recover the data than if it is encrypted.

    There is a counter-argument against encrypting your home folder which focuses on a few key points such as what happens if your hard drive fails and does an encrypted home partition make it more difficult to upgrade your system.

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